Community Social Capital is Inconsistently Associated with Health Promoting Behaviors

Thursday, 2 August 2012: 1:55 PM

Laura Samuel, APRN
Yvonne Commodore-Mensah, RN
School of Nursing, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD

Learning Objective 1: The learner will be able to identify the numerous concepts that have been used to operationalize community social capital in the literature.

Learning Objective 2: The learner will be able to describe the complex relationships between these social capital concepts and health promoting behaviors in community settings.


The WHO has increased global awareness of social determinants of health.  A growing body of literature examines social capital, defined as the social resources available to individuals in community social networks, and its relationship with health behaviors, but numerous conceptual and operational definitions have been used.  This study identifies specific community social capital concepts used in the literature and summarizes each relationship with health promoting behaviors.


A systematic literature search identified 53 studies that examine physical activity (38 studies), avoidance of smoking (19 studies) and fruit and vegetable intake (2 studies). 


Social norms in favor of behaviors were measured in 18 studies, including 15 that measured observational learning in the neighborhood and 5 that measured community level data, such as behavior prevalence.  These norms were generally positively associated with behaviors, except one study found a negative association.  Likewise, encouraging neighbors to help each other and norms in favor of neighbors intervening in public situations for the public good were both sometimes positively associated, but sometimes negatively associated, with behaviors, in 10 and 5 studies, respectively.  The concept of trust in others, measured in 17 studies, was consistently positively associated with behaviors.  Fifteen studies examined the concept of having a good sense of community, and only 6 of them found a significant positive association.  The concept of social cohesion, or close bonds between neighbors, was positively associated with behaviors in 10 of 14 studies.  Collective efficacy was positively associated with behaviors in 1 of 2 studies.


This study demonstrates that community social capital concepts are context-specific and can be positively or negatively associated with health promoting behaviors.  Understanding the effect of each dimension of social capital will help to integrate these concepts into behavioral theories and support their use in effective community interventions globally.